UNION – When this girls’ basketball conference-crossover contest was scheduled for the first week in February, little did either athletic director – Westfield’s Sandy Mamary and Union’s Linda Ionta – realize that both rivals would be 14 games over .500 at the time of the all-important clash.
Westfield visited Union Thursday afternoon, both elite teams 16-2 and each in search of a victory that would bolster their Union County Tournament seeding resumes.
The last thing Westfield wanted to do was start the game by falling behind by double digits, especially after the Blue Devils had dropped two of their last three following one of the program’s best starts ever at 15-0.
Union was primed to extend a six-game winning streak and came out as the quicker and more aggressive team following the opening tipoff.
However, there was 32 minutes to play and despite not scoring for the first four-and-a-half minutes, Westfield stuck to its game plan.
The Blue Devils had to get just as aggressive as the Farmers and prove that they could compete in the paint. Westfield not only chipped away at an early, somewhat sizable deficit, but they slowly-but-surely became the more effective unit on both ends, whether it was grabbing an offensive rebound or blocking a Union field goal attempt.
A 3-point basket from the right side by leading scorer Lillian Scott with one minute remaining in the third quarter gave Westfield its first and only lead and the advantage for good as the Blue Devils went on to post an impressive 59-49 come-from-behind Union County Conference-crossover victory at Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.
As a result, Westfield won its second straight to improve to 17-2, while Union fell to 16-3. Union’s only other losses were Roselle Catholic, which captured the Watchung Division title for the fourth straight season and a division crown for a sixth consecutive year.
Although Westfield trails New Providence by one game for the Mountain Division lead, the Blue Devils now have the edge over the Farmers – from a head-to-head perspective – when the UCT gets seeded Tuesday morning in Clark.
Union led 5-0 after an inside basket by sophomore Jasmine Bonaparte and a 3-point field goal from the left side by senior Wendy Berry.
Westfield head coach Joe Marino then called a timeout.
Following a Westfield turnover off Union’s pressure, sophomore Kya Reddick and junior Adora Moneme hit jumpers to make it 9-0.
Marino called another timeout.
Then Bonaparte drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the host Farmers up 12-0. With 3:50 to go in the first quarter, a 12-0 opening Union run saw the Farmers make five of their first seven field goal attempts while Westfield was running around dazed and confused.
“That was when reality set in,” said Westfield sophomore starter Olivia Luzzi, who despite leg and hand injuries lifted the Blue Devils with a key 15-point performance that included a game-high three 3-pointers. “We were not in a groove and had to come together as a team.”
Scott made one of two free throws to pull Westfield to within 12-1 with 3:31 left in the first quarter. Westfield then closed the opening eight minutes on an 8-6 run to pull to within 18-8.
“Coach called the timeouts and we calmed down,” Luzzi said. “That’s how we roll. We had to pick each other up.”
Westfield moved to within four at 23-19 after freshman Hannah Liddy, who produced a solid performance off the bench, hit a jumper after grabbing an offensive rebound.
However, Union came right back with a 6-0 run to build its lead back up to 10 at 29-19, receiving baskets from Berry – who paced Union with 16 points – Bonaparte and Moneme. In addition, Moneme was proving tough to combat inside with her rebounding presence.
A 3-pointer from the right side by Westfield junior Jacqueline Knapp brought Westfield closer, with the Blue Devils only trailing by a 29-22 count at intermission.
Scott, who ended up leading all scorers with 19 points two days after reaching and passing 1,000 career points, had only four at halftime, with all of those points coming in the first quarter. While Westfield was able to begin chipping away at Union’s lead, Scott took only one shot in the second quarter.
“We had to pressure and run and start playing great defense,” Marino said.
Westfield began the third quarter on a 6-2 run to get back to within four at 31-27. A free throw by Bonaparte and a jumper by Reddick put Union back up by seven at 34-27 midway through the period.
At that point it appeared that Westfield might come close, but still not get over the hump.
Then Luzzi connected on her second 3-pointer, with her basket from the right side pulling Westfield to within two points for the first time at 34-32.
“My shot was off for a long time,” Luzzi said. “The last time I shot the ball this well was in our fifth game. With my leg, I’ve been focusing more on my shot and I felt it today. I gain confidence from my teammates.”
“Olivia can drive hard to the basket and is also a good shooter, she can stick the 3,” Marino said. “With teams keying on Scott and Knapp, it’s nice to have another option.”
Following the momentum of Luzzi’s 3-pointer with 1:50 to go before the fourth quarter, Westfield gained possession after a Union turnover. Knapp then made two free throws to produce the game’s only tie at 34-34.
After Moneme made one of two free throw attempts to give Union back the lead at 35-34 – the Farmers had the fouls advantage the entire contest, but missed most of their free throws – Westfield came down and Scott received a pass in front of the Westfield bench.
It was fitting that Luzzi provided that pass, with Scott’s second and final long-range hoop giving Westfield a 37-35 lead. Scott’s game-winning basket was appropriately assisted by Luzzi, who would score all of her points by the end of the third quarter.
With starters Carly Friedman and Amalia Montes eventually fouling out in the fourth quarter, Friedman in the first minute of the stanza, it was the play of reserves Liddy, Rachel Mattessich, Jamie Miller and Shannon Devitt that proved to be quite valuable.
Liddy finished with nine points, including one 3-pointer from the right side that put Westfield up by eight with less than two minutes to go. She was also a force on the boards.
Devitt, a freshman, came up with two key second-half blocks in addition to doing a good job of grabbing necessary rebounds.
“Our kids never quit and when we put players in off the bench there isn’t a drop off,” Marino said. “Hannah Liddy’s only a freshman as is Shannon Devitt. They both held their own today.”
Another quarter-ending 3-pointer by Knapp put Westfield ahead 40-36 heading into the final eight minutes. Then in the fourth quarter the Blue Devils gradually began to build upon their new-found lead, with their advantage first reaching eight points at 49-41 when Scott scored on a layup.
At that point Union was out of sync offensively – its shots were not falling at all – while in the double bonus on the free throw line for the final six minutes Union did not take advantage when it came time to make its foul shots.
Union ended up making only 12-of-24 free throw attempts, including 2-of-6 in the first half and 10-of-18 in the second. Union made its final two free throws – for the game’s last two points – after trailing by 12 points for the first and only time.
“The foul line hurt us,” Union head coach Justin Meyer said. “Westfield is a very good team and they had a lot of girls step up.”
After falling behind early the way it did, Westfield had to match Union’s intensity. Once the Blue Devils did that, they were able to surpass the Farmers in getting to the basket and preventing Union from doing so.
So after falling behind 12-0, Westfield outscored Union by a 59-37 margin the rest of the way.
“This was a big win, absolutely,” Marino said. “To come here in their place, this was like a championship game atmosphere.”
“After the lead we took we panicked a bit,” Meyer said. “We weren’t as prepared as we should have been for a close game at the end.
“We’ll stick to our game plan and right the ship for the next time.”
NOTES: Before Tuesday morning’s seeding meeting Union still has games at Monroe (out-of-county) Saturday at 1 p.m. and then at Governor Livingston (Watchung Division) Monday night at 7. Union’s final scheduled Watchung Division game is Linden at home Wednesday night at 7.
Westfield will play at Scotch Plains Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and then its UCT resume will be complete. The Blue Devils still have an out-of-county game at South Brunswick scheduled for next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and Mountain Division contests vs. Elizabeth on Feb. 22 away at 11:30 a.m. and March 1 at home at 1 p.m.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-CROSSOVER CONTEST
WESTFIELD (17-2) 8 14 18 19 – 59
UNION (16-3) 18 11 7 13 – 49
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (59):
32-Hannah Liddy, freshman, 3-1-0-9
20-Lillian Scott, junior, 4-2-5-19
2-Jacqueline Knapp, junior, 1-1-5-10
22-Olivia Luzzi, sophomore, 3-3-0-15
12-Carly Freidman, senior, 2-0-0-4
44-Amalia Montes, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
23-Rachel Mattessich, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
11-Jamie Miller, junior, 0-0-0-0
33-Shannon Devitt, freshman, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Knapp, Scott,
Luzzi, Friedman, Montes.
UNION FARMERS (49):
24-Wendy Berry, senior, 4-1-5-16
15-Adora Moneme, junior, 4-0-2-10
21-Jasmine Bonaparte, sophomore, 3-1-2-11
13-Kya Reddick, sophomore, 2-1-2-9
11-Tessa Dolce, senior, 1-0-0-2
35-Salena King, senior, 0-0-1-1
Reddick, Bonapart, Moneme.